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Saturday, 23 June 2012

Confessions of a Teenage Movie Fan

Star Wars, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, scores of Kung Fu movies, Rollerball, Death Race 2000, Logan's Run, Django, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, Dirty Harry, The Wild Bunch, Carrie, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Dracula AD 1972, Herbie goes Bananas - and those are just a few of the movies I remember seeing as a kid in my local cinema, The Workingmen's Hall in Gilfach Goch. Of course most of those movies were not suitable for a youngster, some of them were even certified X (the equal of today's 18) but when I was a kid you could walk into any movie. I remember even going to see Confessions of a Window Cleaner when I must have been about ten years old. The Confessions movie came out in 1974 when I was nine years old but that means nothing as films often took a good year to reach a small valleys town like Gilfach Goch. There were no video recorders in those days and often a film would be a couple of years old before it played the Workingmen's Hall.

A typical Workinmen's Hall interior
Ahh those were the days - There was nothing much to do in Gilfach Goch and we would visit the Workman's Hall whenever we could scrounge up enough money to do so. I don't think I ever missed a Sunday afternoon and more often than not I would go on a Friday night too. Friday was the night you took your girlfriend, if you had one, but if your mates were there you'd leave your girl to watch the movie while you larked about, throwing crisps or hardboiled sweets over the balcony. It was slightly more expensive to sit upstairs and so what we would do is pay for a downstairs seat and then when the movie started and the lights went down we'd go to the toilet and then sneak upstairs. Sometimes you'd get caught but more often than not you'd get away with it. Afterwards we would visit Mike's Chip shop and get a bag of chips before catching the bus home. If you didn't have enough cash for chips you could often scrounge a bag of scrumps (the small bits of batter left in the fryer)  for a couple of pence. These may sound horrid but they were actually quite delicious.

As incredible as it sounds I remember the local priest and his flock of bible bashers protesting outside the hall when the Exorcist was being shown, warning us that our soul would be dammed if we went in and saw the movie. I think that was the only film we were turned away from for being under-age. Absurd when we used to get into watch soft porn comedies like the Confessions and Adventures movies. In fact it wasn't until years later that I finally saw The Exorcist on video tape and what a load of tedious crap I thought it was.

The Workingmen's Hall closed sometime around the early 80's and then one Sunday afternoon vandals broke in to steal the old copper piping for scrap value and set a fire. The building was declared unsafe and demolished soon after. I was there that Sunday afternoon, walking past, when it happened and I remember watching the fire engulf the building and thinking even then of all the hours I had spent within its walls as a kid. In fact it was the Workingmen's Hall that gave me my life long love of the movies.

It's gone forever now as have many of the other Workingmen's Halls in the valleys. They were called Workingmen's Halls or Miner's Institutes because they were built with donations taken weekly from the wages of local workingmen.

"Gilfach Goch (English: Red Valley) is a small former coal mining village. It is reputed to have once been home to the author Richard Llewellyn who based his novel How Green Was My Valley in a fictional town assumed to be based on Gilfach Goch. Llewellyn would spend long summer holidays with his grandfather in the village."

It's sad and it's only when something's gone that you realise the true worth of the place. It was more than a building and over the years it had served as a place for communities to meet. When I was a kid in the 1970's the Hall was already past its best but for many years it served as venue for local dances, amateur dramatics presentations, Bingo nights and of course as a movie house. It also doubled as a soup kitchen during many of the various miners strikes.

It is as a cinema that I will always remember it and none of the multi-screen modern cinemas have the character that this building had. It's just a pity that we never really appreciated it as a kid. It was just a place to go and hang out, somewhere to take your girlfriend and get a kiss on the cheek or if you were lucky she'd let you stick your hand up her blouse. And when I struck lucky I don't think I washed my hand for a week afterwards.

Whenever something monumental like that happened we would boast to our mates - "She let me have top!". I can't recall anyone ever saying they were allowed to have bottom too. That would have been too much - you'd crash your skateboard just thinking about it.

I guess we never thought that one day it would be gone, as a kid you don't really think like that. But everytime I walk past the place where it once stood, and look at the modern houses built there, I think of the many happy hours spent in the Workingmen's Hall, of all the movies I saw there and of course of the first time I ever had top.

1 comment:

Fred Blosser said...

Gary, my teen years were about 15 years earlier and 4,000 miles away from yours, but I have the same fond memories of the nearest movie house, the Kayton in Montgomery, West Virginia, also a favorite hangout for kids and teens whose dads worked in the local coal mines and chemical plants. The Kayton was where I saw THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, DR NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, lots of Hammer and Tarzan movies, and many Harryhausens, among others (even at least one "Carry On ..." comedy). The Kayton is long gone too, and Montgomery is barely hanging on, the life mostly gutted out of it when the coal and chemical industries downsized in the late '70s.